Sustainable Berkeley, the mostly city-funded grouping of public and private individuals and institutions, promises to lead the local fight against global warming and at the same time “brand” Berkeley as the country’s leading green city.
Poised to receive $100,000 in taxpayer money, Sustainable Berkeley is housed outside city government, where it is not subject to open meeting laws, union oversight or civil service protections, something that troubles open government advocates such as Councilmembers Kriss Wor-thington and Dona Spring.
The City Council is likely to approve the funds Tuesday—a second, usually routine vote, part of a larger $3.3 million windfall spending package.
A check will be cut to Sustainable Berkeley only after the council approves a Sustain-able Berkeley work plan to be addressed March 20, said City Manager Assistant Arietta Chakos.
To date, the council has not been publicly briefed on the organization, although it gave the organization about $138,000 last year: three city councilmembers told the Planet they thought Sustainable Berkeley was a nonprofit corporation, which it is not.
The Planet was able to learn about the group through documents obtained from the city through a Freedom of Infor-mation request and interviews with steering committee members.
About the organization
Sustainable Berkeley documents usually describe the organization as a “collaborative.” Its steering committee includes people from UC Berkeley, nonprofits, “green” healthcare professionals, and environmental consultants. City of Berkeley staff once sat on the board, but stepped off several weeks ago after the Planet contacted them with questions about the organization, saying that since they oversee the organization’s contract, it might appear to be a conflict for them to sit on the steering committee.
Catherine Squire, former city of Berkeley sustainable development coordinator, now an “urban sustainability consultant,” co-chairs Sustainable Berkeley. As spokesperson for the organization, Squire spoke briefly by phone to the Planet Tuesday afternoon, declining a more thorough sit-down interview, as she was leaving town for a week.
The Planet asked Squire about an Ecology Center contract with Sustainable Berkeley to research employment in “green” jobs. Because Ecology Center Executive Director Martin Bourque, who did not return calls for comment, sits on Sustainable Berkeley’s executive and steering committees, the Planet asked about the practice of Sustainable Berkeley steering committee members contracting with the organization.
“It will probably continue to happen,” Squire said, adding, “People who are part of the partnership will get contracts. “
Also on the steering committee and the executive board is Nancy Hoeffer, executive director of Community Energy Services Corporation (CESC). “Nancy is paid to be our fiscal agent,” Squire said.
She received $3,000, billed at $52 per hour, to help Sustainable Berkeley begin its work before staff came on board in January. In addition to its role as fiscal sponsor, the CESC helped write Sustainable Berkeley’s bylaws, facilitates hiring staff and shares some work with the organization.
Another individual serving on the board is Gil Friend, CEO of Berkeley-based Natural Logic, Inc., which describes itself as “strategic advisors to the sustainable economy.”
Friend, who was not available for a phone interview, has been involved in Sustainable Berkeley from the beginning, first as a paid consultant to the city and then as a member of the steering committee.
Beginnings of Sustainable Berkeley
In the document “Toward Sustainable Berkeley” Friend prepared for the city, as part of a $36,000 consultancy in which he was paid $200/hour for his work, according to city records, he describes the evolution of the organization.
It goes back to 2004, when Mayor Tom Bates convened a Sustainable Business Working Group out of which, the report says, came a city staff-written plan, the September 2004 Sustainable Business Action Plan, which was endorsed by the City Council.
Part of the Natural Logic contract (shared with Colorado-based What’s Working, Inc.) was to bring together people from three sectors: business, the community and nonprofits and UC Berkeley/Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. The goal was to begin to implement the Sustainable Business Action Plan. Sustainable Berkeley evolved from this effort.
“In the course of the conversations we’ve convened, a Sustainable Berkeley coalition has formed to create an infrastructure to coordinate, partner and leverage resources across business, civic, city and academic stakeholders to meet sustainability goals,” says Toward a Sustainable Berkeley—available on the internet—which lists the names of advisory committee members, who would become the organization’s steering committee.
Today’s steering committee is substantially the same as the original one of June 2006. There are two, rather than three members representing UC Berkeley: Judy Chess of Cal’s Capital Projects and Christine Rosen from the Haas School of Business; Gil Friend, not listed as a member of the original advisory committee, is a current member; Ina Pockrass who calls herself a “transcendentist” was among the original group, as was Alexander Quinn of the Livable Berkeley advocacy organization.
The executive committee, all members of the original advisory group, is co-chaired by Squire and health-care educator Dr. Joel Kreisberg; the Ecology Center’s Bourque and CESC’s Hoeffer are members.
The monthly steering committee meetings are open to the public, but executive committee meetings are closed, Squire said. Whereas meetings covered by open meeting laws are generally held in the evening when working people can attend, Sustainable Berkeley sessions are held in the morning.
Councilmember Dona Spring said Sustainable Berkeley should have come out of the Energy Commission, which created the CESC and serves as its board of directors. “The Energy Commission should take the lead,” she said.
The steering committee is limited by its present by-laws to 15 people, Hoeffer told the Planet, noting she is writing new by-laws, which might enlarge the committee. (The Planet was unable to get a copy of the Sustainable Berkeley bylaws.) After people come to four steering committee meetings, they can ask to be on the committee; its members vote on their membership, Hoeffer said.
It is important that the three sectors—business, university/labs and community—be represented in a balanced way, she added.
Asked to confirm whether all steering committee members were Caucasian, at least in appearance—as the Daily Planet had been informed—Hoeffer said she thinks they are. However, she said, “Our goals are [to balance] the sector, not the individual.”
Councilmember Worthington noted that if the steering committee were a commission and abided by the Fair Representation Act whereby councilmembers each choose a commissioner, there would be an attempt on the part of some on the council to try to make the steering committee reflect the racial and ethnic makeup of the city.
Hiring not transparent
Because Sustainable Berkeley is not part of city government, it does not follow public information access laws or civil service hiring principles. Asked for the salary of newly hired Timothy Burroughs, Squire replied: “I’m not going to say.” The position was not advertised. Recommended to the executive committee by Mayoral Chief of Staff Cisco DeVries, Burroughs was the lone candidate.
Two parts of Sustainable Berkeley
Squire explained the two distinct parts of Sustainable Berkeley: One works on the programs listed on the organization’s website, including giving out sustainability awards, reaching out to large businesses and restaurants to encourage energy reduction and working with interns to do a green job study and a Berkeley School District energy efficiency audit. A city grant of $138,700 and a $134,225 PG&E partnership funds some of this effort. Sustainable Berkeley partners with CESC on these projects.
The other part of Sustainable Berkeley is distinct. That’s the piece Burrough’s will work on – convening people from the community and using their input to write a plan to reduce greenhouse gases. It will be funded by the city’s $100,000; grant funds the mayor’s office has applied for are pending. This will be a “public process. It will be democratic and transparent,” Squire said. The final plan will be submitted to the city manager, then to Mayor Tom Bates, and finally to the City Council for approval, she said.
DeVries said he will spend half his time working for Bates on greenhouse gas issues. “He will collaborate with us and Tom Bates on greenhouse gas reduction,” Squire said.
A champion of Sustainable Berkeley, DeVries wrote Jan. 11 to the Sustainable Berkeley Steering Committee: “We are proposing that the city enter into a contract with Sustainable Berkeley and provide it with adequate resources to play this lead role. While additional fundraising efforts are underway, Mayor Bates will work with the council to provide up to $100,000 from the city general fund to Sustainable Berkeley for the 2007 fiscal year to ensure we have a minimum funding level to carry out the project.”
Steering commttee meetings are 8:30-10:30 a.m. on the first Thursday of the month at the Promenade Building, 1936 University Ave., second floor, the UC Berkeley Capital Projects office. The next meeting is April 5. (Meetings are not posted on the Sustainable Berkeley website.)